Opinion: Rethinking ‘Proportionate’

Israeli apartment hit during Operation Pillar of Defense. Photo Courtesy of ZAKA.

The massive Israeli bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip has once again raised questions about escalation, proportionate response and self-defense. Often, Israel is critiqued for going too far, yet such violent results occur primarily because their weapons are more powerful and their civilians are actually protected. The critics are simply using an unfair standard and ignoring the full picture. It’s time to re-examine and redefine a proportionate response.

Myth 1: Israel’s response is excessive

Traditionally, critics look at the limited weapons harnessed by the terrorists in Gaza and contrast that to the fighter jets and tanks owned by Israel. The difference between a glorified bottle rocket with TNT strapped to it and a smart-bomb is obviously quite significant. But let’s for a minute forget the type of weapon and consider its impact.

Gaza’s rockets kill people. Last week this reality was emphasized in a tragic attack on an Israeli apartment building that left three Israeli civilians dead. Think about that phrase one more time—a rocket struck an Israeli apartment building. Three civilians were killed.

In other words, the weapons wielded by Hamas and the other Gaza terrorists are indeed lethal. Maybe not aimed very well. Maybe not the most efficient killing devices. But lethal nonetheless.

And the targets? Well, Gaza terrorists obviously aren’t overly concerned about collateral damage. Instead they fire into cities and communities, intentionally aiming for civilian homes, cars and, tragically, civilians themselves.

Now its true that many Gaza rockets have limited lethality. People survive rocket attacks. But that doesn’t change their threat.

So let’s consider their threat. Currently, according to the IDF Spokeperson’s Blog, 3.5 million Israelis are under rocket threat from Gaza. By contrast, there are well under 2 million Gazans under threat of Israeli fire. In other words, the number of Israelis whose lives are at risk is roughly double the number of Palestinians facing the same risk. Looks like Gaza is acting disproportionate here.

Myth 2: The number of Israeli attacks are significantly higher

It’s easy to presume that because Israel has fighter jets that they must be capable of a lot more attacks. But that would fly in the face of the actual numbers.

Consider first that Israel faced hundreds of attacks over the last six weeks and calmly reigned in its response to far fewer reprisals. So before Operation Pillar of Defense even began, Gaza has a head start on actual attacks.

Now, with Israel unleashing much of its self-defense war machine, the number of Gaza targets hit numbers more than 1000, according to the IDF Spokeperson’s Blog. That’s a lot of military strikes.

But wait, the Gaza response is keep pace. The IDF Spokeperson’s Twitter feed noted that as of Sunday afternoon, 846 rockets had been fired at Israel in the last four days.

So the IDF has a slight lead in the number of attacks over a four day period. But when clumped together over the course of the year, Gaza has still undertaken more acts of violence that Israel.

Myth 3: The death toll is all that counts

Of course, many people won’t stop at the number of attacks. They will contrast the handful of Israelis killed with the 60-plus Palestinian dead and say that’s the only number that matters.

First, let’s be clear: Any civilian death is tragic. Palestinian included.

But then let’s be equally clear: Israel has taken great pains to limit the death toll, despite the number gap.

Remember, Israel has rocket warning alarms, scads of bomb-shelters and a culture of protecting civilian lives. Every rocket fired by Hamas immediately loses most of its risk simply because most of it’s targets are heading underground. The three civilians killed in Israel last week weren’t in a bomb shelter.

Furthermore, hundreds of rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. It only intercepts rockets it deems are threats. Imagine how much worse the damage to Israel’s civilian life would be without the Iron Dome.

And Gaza? How many times are civilians killed when a terrorist target is bombed? Where are the Gaza bombshelters for their people to hide in? In other words, how many Palestinians have been tragically needless collateral damage simply because their leaders never took the time or money to protect them?

Should Israel be condemned as excessive because their civilians have bomb shelters to hide in?

And recalling some of the egregious offenses during Operation Cast Lead three years ago, let us remember the rockets stored in mosques, the headquarters that were under a hospital and the many other clear violations of wartime ethics and morals carried out by Gaza terrorists.

Traditionally, Gaza terrorists haven’t sought to minimize civilian casualties. They’ve sought to escalate them, to take advantage of media footage of dead women and children or to deter the careful Israelis from hitting what should have been legitimate targets.

Now, of course, tragedies occur in war. It’s entirely possible that Israel has had missiles go awry or targets that were confused.

But consider this as well: Israel has made thousands upon thousands of phone calls to alert Gaza civilians to stay away from Hamas targets. They have dropped leaflets over Gaza saying the same thing.

And while the past couple days have seen Palestinian casualties rise, don’t forget that terrorists are counted equally among the dead.

So rather than hone in on raw numbers, let’s consider one premier example of Israel’s generally exceptional response: the targeted killing of Hamas military commander Ahmad Jabari.

Jabari has been the head of the worst of the worst in Hamas—their military wing—for years. He was just as legitimate a target, if not more so, as Osama Bin Laden. Yet how messy was the assassination of Bin Laden? Some of his family were killed, and US soldiers were put at risk. Yet that was entirely understandable.

But the IDF strike on Jabari was virtually perfect. The only casualties were Jabari and his son. Keep in mind that the Hamas website itself originally said Jabari was killed with his body guard, so even they were unclear as to who was in the car with Jabari. But no one else died. At all. Zero collateral damage. That’s stunning.

Jabari has survived previous previous assassination attempts. He clearly knew how to protect himself. Yet Israel managed to strike one of the top Hamas targets, in a car no less, without killing anyone outside the vehicle.

Now Israel didn’t have to do it that way. They could have dropped a ten-ton bomb on Jabari’s home and justified whomever happened to be caught in the fireball. But instead they re-defined the term “surgical strike.”

All this to say—Israel isn’t perfect. But before you believe all the lies from anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian sources and spokespeople, remember the whole picture. So far, hundreds of Gaza attempts to harm Israeli civilians are being answered only now with hundreds of attacks on terrorist targets.

Proportionality isn’t simple math and never has been—not in Germany, not in Korea, not in Afghanistan. But right now, even much of the math is saying that Israel is fighting a war of self-defense.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, November 18, 2012)